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Rays of Light Bible Lessons by Keith Holder

THE FIFTH SEAL IS OPENED

Rev 6:9-11 And when He had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

No reason is given for the change in the prophetic images given to reveal future events, which directly, or indirectly, affected the universal church of Christ or any of its individual congregations. No longer were the four living creatures used to announce to the opening of the seals, by Jesus, to the apostle John. The symbols revealed under these first seals depicted four horses of different colors, as well as their riders. These heaven-sent prophecies revealed four distinct periods of the Roman Empire, that occurred shortly after John had witnessed, and recorded, them for the edification of His church.

When the fifth seal was opened by the Lamb of God, John's vision into the portals of heaven continued, and he saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held. Without any doubt, what John witnessed was the future persecution of the church of Christ, especially the persecution of those that taught the gospel of eternal salvation through Christ Jesus, as found in the New Testament word of God. Those depicted here were the early preachers who suffered martyrdom at the hands of anti-Christian Jews and other paganistic, Gentile persecutors. Just as the blood of sacrificial bulls, sheep, and goats was poured out at the foot of the temple altar, so was the blood of Jesus' ministering servants symbolically emptied at the altar, in the presence of Jesus Christ, and before the throne of God.

Because of the long, prophetically impending persecution of the church, and its ministers, that would assuredly take place, this predicted future vision finds these Godly Christians pleading with God for relief when that cruel time comes. They were sincerely lifting their voices in earnest prayer asking God, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? Surely they knew that God, with His omnipotent power, could intervene and, in some manner, cause these enemies to cease their oppressive cruelty, which hindered, and destroyed, the progress of Jesus' church. Knowing His ability to avenge them, their question was "how long would it be before He would do so?"

In order to place more emphasis on their plea they added this rhetorical question: dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? The answer indicated in the question is "Yes," God does recognize the persecution of His church, God does recognize physical harm done to His messengers and sympathized for the pain they experience, and God does recognize the spiritual harm done in hindering the teaching of the gospel of Christ. Their pleading desire was that God would, as soon as possible, execute His righteous justice against these enemies of Christ, and allow the unhindered teaching of His word throughout the world. Robes of white, worn by these symbolic Christians, represents the time when there will be no reason for God's intervention to protect the church of Christ. It will take place, but only in God's time frame. All Christians must recognize, and accept, that God's time frame for events, such as this, to take place, is not always the same as their own. If they wait for a little season before God exercises His justice on their oppressors, they must accept His wisdom, before it should be fulfilled.

Again we look back to a period of time when events took place, shortly after John received this heavenly vision, which fulfilled this revealed prophecy. The death of Commodus in A.D. 284 ended ninety-two years of civil unrest within the Roman Empire. In that year, Diocletian became the emperor of this ruthless nation. It was during his reign that the church of Christ experienced the most extreme, prolonged, persecution previously known in its short history on earth, since being established on the Day of Pentecost after the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The church had experienced tremendous growth and expansion during this period of time, which alarmed Roman officials to the extent that they wanted the church to be completely eliminated. This plea reached the ears of Diocletian who immediately set in motion militant actions to totally root out New Testament Christianity, by persecuting all that taught its precepts. In the year 303, a regiment of the Roman army was sent to destroy the church of Christ in the nearby city of Nicomedia, and destroy all sacred writings which revealed the doctrine of Christ. It was well known that the intention of Diocletian, and his military following, was to totally abolish the Christian name and its religious efforts. Many Christian teachers and leaders were slain, and many more were condemned as the vilest of criminals, and filled their prisons. Roman officials demanded that Christian doctrine cease to be taught, and completely return to the worship of historical Roman idols. This was only the beginning of an extended period of persecution of the church.

From that time until well into the sixth century, persecution was widely known, and executed against Jesus' church - it was a period that became well known as the "era of the martyrs." Historical archives have established, and documented, extreme military persecution, such as secretly coming upon a church of Christ engaging in worship services, surrounding it, locking its doors to prevent escape, setting fire to the building, and guarding it to prevent any Christian escaping its fiery death. Indeed, the persecution of the church of Christ was great, extended approximately three hundred years, and came to an end only in the season of time, chosen by our God, our Creator, and omniscient Heavenly Father.